Closure of St. Paul center leaves seniors without help

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 22, 2011 - 10:06 PM

St. Paul Senior Chore Service, which provides some 500 seniors free- and reduced-price help around their homes, closes Dec. 31.

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Because of her bad back, Birdie Carter, 71, is holding out hope the St. Paul Senior Chore Service will keep going.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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After her divorce, Birdie Carter determined that selling her four-bedroom stucco-and-brick Falcon Heights house would cost more than keeping it. Staying on top of the cleaning and home maintenance, though, was too much for a retired 71-year-old Minneapolis elementary school teacher with a bad back.

For relief, Carter turned to the now-endangered St. Paul Senior Chore Service that provides some 500 seniors free- and reduced-price help around their homes.

"I want it to keep going," Carter said of the service. "Since I had trouble with my back, I don't want to wreck it again."

The program, however, will be shuttered within days, requiring seniors to look elsewhere for help that may or may not be available.

Several factors compelled the closing, including new requirements for the critical $25,000 annual grant that helped fuel the operation since 1988. (The city also has given $8,000 to the program, bringing the full annual budget to $33,000.)

"It's not that they're not willing to give us the money, it's that we decided not to reapply," said Amy Sparks, executive director of the St. Anthony Park Community Council.

In a July letter to neighborhood leaders and agencies serving seniors, Sparks listed several reasons for the decision to shut down the Senior Chore Service, including:

• concerns about liability.

• the loss of free services from Sentence to Serve.

• a hope to see the program integrated with other senior services.

• a desire for her organization to focus on its primary mission of serving the neighborhood.

The St. Anthony council initiated the program, and it grew to include neighborhoods including Hamline-Midway, Summit-University, downtown, Como, Frogtown and West Seventh.

There are numerous other chore services throughout the Twin Cities, Sparks said. She is hopeful one will take over the St. Paul turf. The deadline is Dec. 31.

The Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging has provided the grants for the St. Paul Senior Chore Service for many years. Bob Anderson, the associate director, said many agencies are adjusting to new grant requirements announced last spring, but the St. Anthony council's service was the only one to close.

For at least a dozen years, the grants have gone to organizations that serve older adults in the seven-county metro area based on the one-hour, one-volunteer match for the funds. Under the 2012 rules, if 10 volunteers rake a lawn for an hour, that counts as one matching hour -- it used to count for 10 matching hours. Anderson said the change was necessary to comply with federal laws governing the funds.

While other federal Title III chore services exist in some metro areas, many areas remain uncovered by them, he said.

The St. Paul service mostly focused on fall and spring outdoor chores where other groups send help more routinely to homes, he said. "With limited funds, we see a larger impact when somebody's going into a home on a more regular basis," he said.

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson

  • St. Paul seniors who need assistance should try:

    • Senior LinkAge Line: 1-800-333-2433.

    • Disability Linkage Line: 1-866-333-2466.

    • Veterans Linkage Line: 1-888-546-5838.

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